Every six months I get the dreaded call. It is the one from my dentist reminding me of my upcoming check up. I HATE THE DENTIST! I have awful teeth and crazy tartar buildup. It is embarrassing and is never convenient. But the truth is, because it is a regular part of my life, I get to keep my teeth and my wife :) If I let my embarrassment over what might be seen or the fake business and importance of my life prevent me from getting a check up, minor problems become major problems and the little annoyances can actually wreck my mouth, ministry, and life. (see how I just transitioned from my mouth to student ministry :) )
Now that you are fully into the swing of your second semester, it is the perfect time to take some time for your bi-annual ministry check up. The reason we do this is the exact same reason we go to the dentist. We want a healthy ministry that is experiencing growth and fix any problems that are festering before they explode. But few of us are willing to do the hard work to actually evaluate our ministries, so we don't even know what to fix or where to even begin. Here is why it is of utmost important to evaluate our ministry as well as our own lives, and some questions for evaluation.
The ground is always moving:
I am sure that you are an amazing youth worker. Actually, I am sure you were an amazing youth worker. Student ministry is challenging because every single part of the ministry is continually in flux. The students are always changing, the culture is always changing, and you, yourself, is always changing. If you think that what you have done will always work, I guarantee that the bus has already passed you by.
Change is difficult and finding out that you are quickly becoming outdated is awful. When we understanding this as a reality, then we are are able to actually be able to do ministry for the long haul. The bi-annual check up allows there to be a moment in time when we can see where we stand. We can see how and where we are missing it and celebrate where we are killing it.
Few of us are reflective enough and honest enough with what we see to figure out when we start leaving our sweet spot of ministry. I always forget if our high schoolers were into Phineas and Ferb or Pogs when they were kids. Because I am getting old and I don't get student culture and my spirituality is significantly different from theirs, I need to spend more time, not less in evaluation and reflection. Without check-ups, with out evaluation, I will be in danger of spending a significant season in ministry swinging and missing.
We must always be open to feedback:
So many of us hate getting negative feedback. In fact we will sacrifice the chance of getting positive feedback so that we won't have to hear about where we have failed or could improve. We mange our conversations and direct our questions in ways that don't allow others to be truly honest. But if we are going to improve, if we are going to have sense of how we are really doing, then we must be open to true feedback.
In the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins says that we must be open to the brutal truth. In Christian circles we use loving grace. Loving grace is awesome, but that won't help us move our ministries down the field. We need to be open to how we are really doing. We can't get defensive or perturbed. We must ask questions and create an environment that the people around us feel like they can tell us how it really is. This is true for our boss, for our leaders, for our parents, and even for our students.
The more we are open for feedback, the quicker we are to solve those problems, the happier everyone will be and the better your ministry will be.
We must be preparing for 2 years from now:
The students that you have been pouring your guts into will soon be graduating. WIthout even realizing it, your amazing youth group of deep students who are relationally close to you will be exchanged for freshman who are wild and immature. Or worse, you haven't even considered that the middle school ministry or the children's ministry that pours into your ministry is struggling and therefore graduating tiny classes. This shock for both the youth worker and for their supervisor often leads to awful conflict and even opportunities to move on.
This is the exact time in the calendar year to think about what next fall will look like. Who are your future leaders? What will the demographic of the incoming class look like? Do you have space in your heart for these younger kids? If you are not actively growing your heart for these new classes your longevity will be in jeopardy.
Plus if there are some danger signs with a smaller than usual incoming class you have an entire semester to develop a plan to solve this problem, to prepare your heart and supervisor, and to come up with a plan that you will be ready to embrace when your besties graduate!
If we want our ministries to thrive for the long run, and if we want to make sure that our own faith and personal lives thrive as well, then we must stop, collaborate, and listen. We must realize that the ground is in flux, be open for brutal feedback, and prepare for the year to come. To do this, lets ask hard questions and be open to the true answers. Here are some of the questions that I often ask when I do my bi-annual check up.
Some Hard Questions:
- How healthy is your group? Is it inviting? Are there avenues for students to connect? Are students warm or cold? Is these space for them to be honest? Are there toxic elements?
- Do you have numerical health? Do you have about 10% of the numbers in your High School ministry as there are to the adults in big church? Are your numbers sustainable? Are you growing or dying?
- What is the spiritual temperature of your students? Do you have any idea how they are doing or who they are apart from your ministry context? Is there space for them to be honest about what is really going on? Is there space for the entire spectrum of students in your ministry, from those who love Jesus with all their heart to those who doubt or have walked away?
- What is the best thing you have done in the first semester? What was the worst? What are 5 specific areas of growth that your ministry needs?
- When is your day off? Why aren't you taking it? Who are you trying to impress?
- Are you preparing your students to hear from and value other adults or have you set yourself up to be the lone voice, the oracle, the apostle for your students?
- How would your supervisor answer these questions? Your leaders? Your students? How close would your answers be?
- How is your own walk with God? How are you growing? What has been some ways God has sharpened you, pruned you, and transformed you in these last few months? Have you sacrificed your own faith for the faith of your students? What are you reading? Who is sharpening you? Who is mentoring you?
- How is your marriage? Does your spouse know that they are your one and only? Are you actively pursuing your spouse and finding ways to win them over? And not just as a good example but because you actually still passionately love them? How is it with your kids? Do they get the prime place of love and affection? Do they know that you would drop any other kid for them? Do you have healthy boundaries in life and ministry? Are you married to your job? Have your youth group kids taken the place of your own kids?
- How would your spouse answer these questions?
How do you evaluate your ministry and yourself? What questions do you ask? What process do you use? I would love to know!